How many times a week do you check your own body language or think over how you’ve said something to a coworker or acquaintance? For Barbara Pachter, a business coach, author, and adjunct at Rutgers University, it’s important to be in tune with not only your body language but tone of voice, word choice, and gestures.
An updated edition of one of her books, The Power of Positive Confrontation: The Skills You Need to Handle Conflicts at Work, at Home, Online, and in Life, focuses on communicating in a less argumentative and confrontational manner in order to maintain positive relationships. While Pachter does a good job with certain aspects, I found the book lacking and immature in several significant areas.
Pachter sets out to help us develop appropriate skills to address issues in various types of relationships, whether we feel micromanaged by a colleague, trolled by someone on Twitter, or disrespected by a neighbor. Often we feel stymied, and yet don’t know how to discuss the problem with the other person without escalating it. As Pachter writes, “people don’t say or do anything to the person bothering them mostly because they don’t know what to say or do!”
The book begins with an overview of conflicts that drive us crazy and the people we must learn to “positively confront.” In Pachter’s language, these include bad borrowers (they return your car with no gas, give back your favorite book with coffee stains, or take your stapler without asking); constant complainers; interjecting interrupters; annoying askers; social media menaces; holiday hasslers; gruesome groomers (“you can smell her perfume and hear her bracelets jangling before you see her”); work welchers; request refusers; space spongers; and digitally distracted devils.
After laying the groundwork for the book, Pachter writes extensively on ways to identify our own nonverbal cues (body language, gestures) and language. This way, she explains, we can positively confront people who have become negative forces in our personal and professional lives. Pachter goes into detail about the way we position our body in conversation, how we gesture passively or aggressively, what kind of eye contact and facial expressions we make, how loud and fast our voice is, and how we use touch. All of these, she emphasizes, can influence, either positively or negatively, our communication with others.
But despite some helpful suggestions, many of the chapters feel redundant. Pachter relies a lot on wordplay, including alliteration, as well as an acronym that can be difficult to remember — and that feels perhaps a tad immature. When she uses the initials “WAC” (and often within the cutesy phrase “WAC’em”), she means it as an acronym for what (what’s really bothering you? Define the problem), ask (what do you want to ask the other person to do or change? Define what would solve the problem for you), and check-in (you’ve asked the other person to change something about his or her behavior. What does the person think about it? You need to check in and find out).
The use of “WAC’em” only serves to take away from the discussion. And overall, the book lacks that spark that pulls reader in and keeps them engaged. Even worse, the more interesting subjects are placed toward the end of the book — and you may have already given up on it by chapter 2.
Pachter’s intent is a useful one: to teach us how to correctly and confidently address, rather than avoid, the problems created by difficult people, and to approach conflict intuitively and not angrily. Yet in addition to being monotonous, her book fails to provide some key information. For one, Pachter leaves out situations where we are not able to address the person causing the conflict. She also omits another important component of all interpersonal relationships: identifying when you have the option to communicate with someone, but when it is best to not confront.
Not all confrontations, even if approached with the best intention and forethought, will be appropriate and end positively. This is a reality that Pachter fails to acknowledge. There are many situations where confrontation is not appropriate: Think about an arrogant boss, a flippant teacher during a parent-teacher conference, or a gossiping neighbor.
Indeed, certain situations are simply not worth addressing. Meanwhile, those that are worth addressing deserve a more serious book that delves more deeply into communication issues without using cutesy language.
As a clinician who often teaches social skills, I’m sad to say that this book leaves out too much.
The Power of Positive Confrontation: The Skills You Need to Handle Conflicts at Work, at Home, Online, and in Life, revised and updated edition
Da Capo Lifelong Books, July 2014
Paperback, 264 pages